Capturing zeitgeist of cinema

Capturing zeitgeist of cinema

Capturing zeitgeist of cinema

The project has employed more than one mediumto explore multiple worlds that contradict each other Calendar art is like a chrono-recorder trying to catch the ebbs, flows and signals of irregular circadian rhythms of time that have become shadows of lost worlds.

Historiographers know biographies always defy linear chronology; attempts to trace the trajectory of any social phenomenon’s genesis and growth end up in traversing a Mobius strip that is quixotic, running through different conclaves of time and multiple realities.


“Project Cinema City: Research art and documentary practices,” is an attempt by various artistes to sketch out a biography of 100 years of Indian cinema. The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA-Mumbai) has put up 13 works of art through various medium along with 10 documentary films, trying to focus on zeitgeist of Bombay (Mumbai) film world called Bollywood through diverse timeframe.

To call the exhibit a walk into the growth of celluloid history would be an understatement; more appropriate would be to call it a trundling into fields where history is wrapped in fog and darkness with reality and fantasy of past blurring and creating a
haphazard world with alleys leading nowhere, and  runnels converging seamlessly into the present.

The project, focussing on Mumbai cinema’s production processes, ancillary cultures, the bazaars and streets of city hawking the bazaarkitsch, has employed more than one medium to explore multiple worlds that contradict each other.

The exhibition, a part of the project that later intends to encompass other cities and subsequently the entire Asia Cinema, at present is divided into three main forms: thus there are techno-supported art forms; works on glass panels and paintings and
calendar art, all of them blending subtly the moorings of the tinsel world in the shonky dream market of Bombay.

Bombay (Mumbai) a small island with a natural harbour grew exponentially from late early 19th century. The islands, a dowry gift to Britishers, by mid-nineteenth century had emerged as one of the  key ports in south Asian seas.

The western influence on the development of social production in these islands were more profo­und than other land-locked towns in the Indian sub-continent; and this was the reason that three ports-- Madras (Chennai), Calcutta (Kolkata) and Bombay (Mumbai) also witnessed the emergence of silent and talkies (films.)

All the three centres despite being influenced by the dominant ideology prevailing then, individually also shaped their own styles. Mumbai flicks, after initial concentration on mythology, began churning out movies in a pattern which had beginning, middles and ends with a moral that just loomed most of the time tremulously on the fringes of narratives.

The movies never relied on reality and most of them just ambled into inconsequential universes where good and evil were found along with enchantment and terror playing like brother and sister in a  verandah under gloaming skies.

The lure to the dark subterranean space of cinema hall and get strapped for three hours to face fear and danger with a safety parachute has proved its potency time and again in the last one century; and teenagers till date play hooky from schools for a three-hour treat.

The masses got their politically correct statements not from classical works of literature or from schools or colleges; they got it from movies bandying around endemic political correctness.

And in the exhibit artists like Atul Dodiya have tried to grapple with these paradoxical curves permeating Indian cinema. Dodiya through a series of paintings tries to chronologically trace the manifestation of evil in Hindi cinema.

The railway lines are skein of city’s nerve systems and Dodiya has taken stations, dotting rail lines as the synapses in time continuum.

Thus his paintings in a subdued tone, mirrors the generational change and changing face of evil in  Hindi film. Thus you have savvy and louring K N Singh playing villain in early fifties looking out from a station signboard at one junction; a diabolical, deep planning Rehman playing chess of late fifties looks out from another railway station sign board.

The evil personified in the villains of Hindi cinema look out from railway platforms through yellow signboards hung in a circular manner forcing the viewer to ponder over the cyclical nature of time.

But if Dodiya’s work attempts to explore the changing faces of villains in the last half-a-century, then calendar art depicting the intermingling of market forces, advertisements of lotions and other aphrodisiacs and lotions along with film hoardings tries to grapple with inter-dependence of the socio-economic institutions in the society.

The ribald film banners, posters and advertisements jelling together in a painted hoardings no doubt are work of imagination; but they effectively transpose the realities of lost worlds into the present space.

Interestingly, not all calendar art is rooted into forties or fifties. Some of the artists growing up in seventies and eighties have tried to capture the cynicism, sexual ambiguity and a deep-rooted hatred for old orders and respectabilities, in their work through garish hoardings of films of that period.


While there seems to be an obsession in the exhibit towards, seventies and eighties--widely considered to be the angry bohemian generation period--not much focus has been given to the late nineties and turn of millennium when anti-establishment themes were shrewdly absorbed by politico-economic establishment structures turning the angst and anger of eighties into a façade of a child trying to play a soldier wearing combat fatigues.

Moreover, the exhibition despite toying with various media, has kept itself aloof from the
political currents that gave birth masterpieces in Hindi cinema. This contradiction of the project comes across in the paintings, refusing to look into the slices of as hattered world lurking beneath glossy hoardings and gleaming screens.

But despite suffering from a cohesive artistic theme which results in the works being scattered randomly, the work on display showcases bold experiments in new forms of media as well as old medium like bioscope which freezes, arrests and then zooms ahead the junctions in the timeframe of Hindi cinema.

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